Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Blank Stares

One franchise had won nearly half of its league’s titles. Another was hoping for some late-season mojo to take it’s first-ever crown. Both DC United and the MetroStars had reasons to feel good heading into the second legs of their first-round playoff series last weekend. DC was returning to RFK stadium after a scoreless draw with the Chicago Fire. Metro had a one-goal lead heading to Gillette Stadium to take on New England. Metro took a lead early in the second half on yet another key goal by Youri Djorkaeff, upping its aggregate lead to two-nil. Signs were pointing to an epic Eastern Conference final. Then… the clearly talented Revs took command, scoring three times in the series’ last twenty-two minutes to dash the Metros’ hopes. In fashion typical of Rev-Metro clashes this year, a late goal decided the outcome. Rev Khano Smith’s 83rd-minute shot eluded Metro keeper Tony Meola, sending New England to the conference finals this Sunday versus… not DC United, but the Chicago Fire. DC had looked dangerous down the stretch, and the Freddy Flap notwithstanding, looked to be better than Chicago. However, the Fire surprised themselves, DC, and 20,000+ ravenous United fans at RFK by scoring three incredible first-half goals en route to a 4-0 rout of the defending champs. To add insult, key United midfielder Christian Gomez was red-carded in the second half after spitting on a Fire opponent.

The Western Conference semifinals were no more predictable, as 3rd seeded Colorado earned home-field advantage for the Western final by besting host FC Dallas 5-4 in penalty kicks at the conclusion of 120 minutes of tied-up soccer. Supporters’ Shield winner San Jose, who had lost only four matches all season, couldn’t solve chief rival LA in a 4-2 aggregate loss.

There were plenty of blank stares to go around this weekend as three favored clubs fell in the playoffs’ first round. However, these playoffs demonstrate why sports are so popular; they're the ultimate reality series: no one has any idea how they’ll turn out. Of course, other leagues offer more in the way of home-field advantage than MLS, so upsets like CHI-DC, COL-FCD, and LA-SJ are more likely. However, I prefer the current setup to the "best-of-three" or "first-to-five" playoff formats of the past. The current setup gives fans of all playoff teams the hope that their club can lift the Silver Rothie, and that’s a great thing.

Thanks to the Metros
Here’s a personal thank-you to the MetroStars organization for making the last third of the MLS season a great rollercoaster ride. Whether you like or hate Bob Bradley, it’s obvious that Alexi Lalas did the MetroNation a service by jettisoning the former coach when things got dicey down the stretch. Promoted coach Mo Johnston did a fantastic job motivating the team to a 3-1-1 record in the regular season and playoffs, and while the club came up short in frustrating manner, anything after the 1-0 win over the Revs at home was gravy. Hopefully the red-haired suit will do the right thing and give MoJo the keys for the 2006 season & beyond.

US Soccer has done well by getting the November 12th match at Scotland televised on Fox Soccer Channel at 11am ET. Hopefully they’ll do US fans one better by picking up some European feed & saving us from Mr. Bretos & company's blathering on and on about nothing in particular. Il Bruce will select his roster after this weekend’s matches.

Ch-ch-check it Out
Adam Spangler has a great interview with Landon Donovan on his This is American Soccer Blog. Nice job!

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